November 8, 2008
Stalin in a nutshell surrounded by hamburgers wrapped in poison Ivan
Episode Cast (in alphabetical order)
Luther Adler ... Molotov
Paul Bryar ... Zhukhov
Harry Davidson ... Rymim
Lawrence Dobkin ... Shtemenko
Melvyn Douglas ... Stalin
Bert Freed ... Sokolovsky
Thomas Gomez ... Malenkov
Oskar Homolka ... Khrushchev
Edwin Jerome ... Senoir Physician
Paul Lambert ... Rassine
E.G. Marshall ... Beria
Paul Maxwell ... Recorder
Marian Seldes ... Mme. Molotov
David J. Stewart ... Ignatiev
Eli Wallach ... Poskrebyshev
Mel Douglas as Stalin is well-cast as the sly old fox who stays several steps ahead of the pack of wolves closing in for the kill (or be killed, in Stalin's last purge), callously sniffing at the bones the "old man" tosses to see which of the old guard are hungry enough for power to lunge too soon, inciting infights and betrayals along with the usual methods to find out the "traitors" identities.
Melvyn Douglas is amazing as the man of Steel, starting his sudden fall from the tallest spire.
Though on the slippery slope down, he maintains his clarity though delusional at times,
tirelessly playing cat and mouse with his successors; rearranging these admitted back-stabbers who insist they are patriots 1st, by shuffling their mug-shots like a deck of face cards.
The game of hubris is all that prevents Comrade Stalin from toppling even while he is dying on his feet.
The teleplay allows the veteran character actors in the ensemble to shine.
Thomas Gomez did several classic noirs of the silver screen, including Ride the Pink Horse (1947), earning an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Directed by and starring Robert Montgomery, Ride the Pink Horse was later adapted for an episode of the TV series "Robert Montgomery Presents" in which Gomez reprised his role.
Force of Evil and especially Key Largo (both released in 1948) gave him memorable lines he chewed with the best of his fellow heavies such as Edward G. Robinson (known for devouring sets and supporting players like so many snacks).
Frequent flyers who've crossed-over a few times too often into the Twilight Zone will remember the "Escape Clause" episode, about the bored hypochondriac, Walter Bedecker who sells the Devil an
"insignificant, infinitesimal, teensy weensy crumb off the crust of your being... your so-called soul!"
Thus Bedecker is seduced with semantic gymnastics spouted by the rotund and sweaty Scratch...
Gomez hints of a later payback with a slight wink to the viewer at home, as he mockingly complains that the heat is unbearable in the boiling steam furnace controlled enviornment, which draws no sympathy from the overly-bundled Bedecker.
"Cad-WALL-ader is the name I'm using this month. It has a nice feeling on the tongue... Caaad-waaal-ader!"
Simply a delicious moment from the golden age of television as Gomez chews another chunk off of the set, flashing a grin and wide-eyed leer.
Thomas Gomez is one of several top character actors with juicy parts in this superb Playhouse 90 who been guests on Twilight Zone, and also lent talent to film noir and modern gothic thrillers.
Eli Wallach plays Stalin's faithful dog, rewarded after all by being used as bait.
My favorite movie starring Eli Wallach is The Lineup, (1958, dir. Don Siegel) playing the role of Dancer, the cold psychotic killer co-star Robert Keith as Julian extols for his pure "H" - not heroin, but hatred - tho that's the stuff SF's finest and these professional criminals comb through Sutro Museum, SOMA, The Outside Lands and waterfront YMCA saunas for the whereabouts of.
Wallach gets plenty of practice twisting silencer
attachments onto the barrel of his 38 Smith & Wesson.
Eli Wallach was originally hostile on the set of The Lineup, (according to director Don Siegel), upset that after a prestigious film debut in Baby Doll (1956), he was doing a routine thriller as his second film.
Midway through the shoot, however, Wallach realized he was actually playing a complex role in a well-written film and became more sympathetic to the project.
The similar energy Eli Wallach poured into the role of Poskrebyshev is still very much apparent watching this Playhouse 90 enlarged to full screen, transferred from the kinnescope shot off a monitor to preserve the production for posterity, I presume.
A very watchable print even when enlarged to 15" or 17".
Wallach also guest-starred in many other dramatic anthology TV series, often as not these series were broadcast live; complete seasons or single episodes are rarely seen today.
Thank you all for maintaining the viewing experience free on archive.org, preserving these shows and reviving interest in teleplays like this worthy episode of Playhouse 90.
Also amazingly holding up well, still capturing the short attention span is the performance by Oskar Homolka (star of Boris Karloff's Thriller series - the "Waxworks" episode; leech applier and gloating gourmet in the William Castle classic, Sardonicus)...
as the soon-to-be Premier Krushchev, played here to the hilt jib-jabbering away within earshot of any party member at every party as though his bluster and banter alone assures his place at the top of these out-of-shape survivors, suspicious minded older men way past their prime hoping to make the top spot and set the scene for... the same Mother Russia, with Tito to the south, Mao looking over her shoulder and even worse, America pushing hard from every direction.
Molotov, the heir apparent, is expertly played by Luther Adler, who went on a round trip to the darkest corner of the Twilight Zone when every wish he is granted goes wrong, especially when he decides on the fool-proof wish:
to be made the ruler of a developed country for life without term limits, with no political party member, second-in-command successors waiting in line able to usurp his #1 title, and no asassination attempts can kill him.
Safe from prior loopholes in this wish of wishes, he arrives in his bomb shelter protected by impregnable 3 foot thick cememt walls...
somewhat dank with an inch of water on the floors, air being conditioned at intervals in this bunker way below ground level where the crumbling Reichstag sits on top.
He has been transformed into the Reichs Chancellor... supreme leader of Germany, in 1945, at the end of the war... Luthor Adler IS Hitler. It's the worst nightmare for a little Jewish shopkeeper with small dreams until the day when a genie from a junked lamp offered him the world...
and with all that power, we find a lower class unskilled worker who is not interested in clinging to his scattered family roots or changing border lines; who ultimately forever remains a small man...
nonetheless here he is again trading in his conscience for complete control and is driven slowly mad, destroying anything and anyone around him that he considers an enemy.